I went surfing last weekend. Spoiler alert: despite my time in California I’m not all that great. But, I can catch a wave and stand up a bit. The waves at the beach in Rabat on Sunday were modest but good- 2 or 3 feet. And really, there’s no experience like intense boost from water that you get from catching a wave. I took surf lessons from a guy named Wassim, whose wife, Sarah, manages the American Fulbrighters here in Morocco.
I’ve been going to the beach pretty regularly. It’s a great place to swim, the water is refreshing, it’s great exercise, and a thrill to swim (or surf!) while looking at the fortress of the kashbah. This past Sunday, I noticed that the water was up much higher than it had been in previous few weeks I’ve been here. The first few weeks of swimming, I had to walk out 50 or 100 yards to get into water that was deep enough that my feet couldn’t touch the bottom. This past weekend, the water had covered much of the beach, and the lifeguard’s chair (generally unoccupied) was surrounded by water.
So why now? What made this Sunday different than the previous few weeks? I had presumably been out at most different phases of the tide. I got home, washed the salt off me, and had a little dinner at home.
Even though I’m over in Morocco, I try to keep in an eye on the weather in the Gulf. This is partially out of habit and interest- I like geeking out of the weather. And, my interest is tropical weather is partially out of necessity. While I have a good friend looking after my house and my dog, I’m still a bit concerned about their overall condition.
Of course, the internet makes all this easy. The National Hurricane Center puts its forecasts up online, as do many commercial weather companies, so anyone with an internet connection anywhere on earth (save perhaps North Korea and a few other repressive regimes) can see them. (This also means that I can easily connect with most of you via the ‘net. Skype, FaceTime, email and WhatsApp all get here. So, please don’t be shy about calling me using the web!)
The Hurricane Center showed what I had suspected- there was a storm in the central Atlantic. I knew about storms starting in Africa, but had not thought much about them impacting Africa. Hurricanes often take a circular path across the Atlantic. Many start as low pressure systems that originate near Mauritania or Mali about 1,000 or 1,500 miles south of Rabat. They travel across the Atlantic, following the edge of the Bermuda high pressure zone, and then curve around, eventually finding their way to Ireland, Iceland, and other parts of the North Atlantic. Depending on the movements of the Bermuda high pressure system, and other big weather systems, sometimes these storms venture west and impact the Caribbean or North America, and sometimes they stay east- staying clear of the Americas. (There are other tracks that hurricanes can take too, but these are some of the basics).
In the second half of September a hurricane formed in the central Atlantic. Most people in the US probably paid little attention to it, but Lorenzo was one of the largest storms on record. It eventually became a Category 5 storm, and the furthest east storm to reach that designation.
Here in Morocco, the waves on the coast were rough all week. They crashed along the rocky coast, seeming to grab at the shore, reminding me of why there are large blocks on rock that fall into the sea. There’s a large wave break at the edge of the harbor, I watched as trains of waves rolled against this. The wave break does it’s job- water levels were up in the harbor, but the beach was open for surfing, and fishing boats could head out to sea- or return home to safety.
There are wave breaks all along the coast- sometimes these are piles of rocks, other times more engineered structures. It’s possible to deal with the ocean- and I don’t doubt the ability of these structures to cope with a system like today. But there are also places along the coast, where the ocean has crept closer to land. On a peaceful day, or even a mildly stormy one, it’s a beautiful site, and people were out enjoying the scenery. But what happens if the coast reaches the road nearby? Surely one could fix the road, add more wave breaks, and secure some safety. But, as storms in the Atlantic become more severe as climate changes, will repairs need to be made more frequently? And how many more coasts experience an unusual storm, a particularly intense day out of season? That is certainly something I’ll be thinking about during this year, and something I hope to work on more closely when return home.
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